‘Babies’ may have violated labour laws

The babies you see in the movies and on TV are total divas.

California law requires it: Infants need a doctor’s note and legal permits before they can be stars. They’re only allowed on camera for 20 minutes a day. They must be accompanied by both a nurse and studio teacher – both paid for by the producers. The babies also need to be at least 15 days old.

But the film-makers behind Babies say they didn’t have to worry about all that. They cast the film’s four international stars while they were still in the womb and filmed them unobtrusively in their natural environments, like “a wildlife film of human babies,” says producer Amandine Billot.

Still, the film may have violated California’s tough child labour laws, since one of its young stars hails from the Golden State.

The law is clear – it applies to any kind of film production using children in the state, including documentaries, says Toni Casala, founder of ChildrenInFilm.com, an online resource for parents and producers who want kids on camera.

diverse cultures

Presented without narration or dialogue, Babies follows four infants from around the world from birth until their first steps. Viewers see Ponijao and her traditional life among the Himba culture in Namibia; Bayarjargal, the son of nomads in Mongolia; Mari, growing up in the heart of Tokyo; and Hattie, a baby girl in San Francisco.

Director Thomas Balmes says he wanted to show the universality of parental love and children’s development despite geographical and cultural differences.

“We needed a common environment in terms of love and affection and time,” Balmes says. “The message of the film is as long as you get that, this is what is crucial and what makes babies grow well.”

The French director says he shot most of the footage himself, trying to disturb his subjects as little as possible, and often shooting alone with only natural light.

Yet, if someone complains about Babies to the state labour commissioner’s office, an investigation could be launched, says staff attorney David Gurley.

He declined to speak specifically about Babies because he has not seen the film, but Gurley confirmed that state law would typically apply to all types of productions in California that include minors, including Hattie. The labour commissioner’s office can intervene in non-complying productions at any point, even after a film is released.

Violators could be subject to fines ranging from US$50 to US$5,000 per violation, Gurley says, adding the labour commissioner’s office could also “preclude a film-maker from getting a permit to film in California in the future.”

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